IMANI HOUSE was started in Liberia, West Africa in the midst of civil war, by Mrs. Bisi Ideraabdullah . The founder and family “migrated” to the small West African nation from the U.S. in 1985, and in 1990 when fighting reached the capital, Monrovia, The Ideraabdullahs sent their 5 children to be with relatives in the States, and stayed behind. When situations in their area became critical, the couple decided it was too dangerous to stay any longer, and contacted the U.S. Embassy for evacuation (by Amateur Radio). Because they had already received an official evacuation notice, the Embassy refused to carry out any further action to help them. Stranded, the two realized they had no choice but to stay.
Things at times were very difficult and they often faced hunger and threats to their safety, but they made it through. Being firsthand witnesses to the chaos and suffering brought about by the war, and feeling a need to help, they began volunteering, caring for the wounded and sick at Island Hospital near their home. Neither had a background in health or had ever been through a civil war, and were not prepared for what they experienced; severe hunger, desolation, atrocities, suffering and death. Large numbers of orphaned children were brought to the hospital for treatment or because they had nowhere else to go and Sister Bisi, as she became known, helped to nurse them back to health. Many children were never claimed by family or relatives, so she began a makeshift orphanage in her own home. Sister Bisi began to build collaborations with USAID, other NGOs and still functioning Liberian Ministries (during ceasefires and brief periods of peace) to support the orphanage. She often made trips back to the U.S. to raise funds, shipping containers of medicine, clothing and other necessities and using her family’s own resources to cover many costs.
On one of several trips back to the U.S. to find additional support, Sister Bisi realized that her hometown, Brooklyn, NY had many that were less fortunate and needed some form of assistance as well. She loved Liberia, but she also remembered where she came from, born and raised in the Marcy Housing Development. Having volunteered in the hospital during the war in Liberia, and seeing the extreme need for healthcare services, Sister Bisi decided to phase out the orphanage and focus on opening her own clinic, teaching residents sustainable agriculture (because hunger and lack of food were major issues) and trying to introduce soybeans as a staple in the Liberian diet, because of their high protein and nutritional value. She also started a Liberian Adult Education program as well.
In spite of having close to no actual funding, Imani House’s first clinic was opened in 1992, and was nothing more than a lean-to tent. As time went on that became an actual facility that to this day provides healthcare services to mothers and children (mainly). She eventually abandoned the agriculture and soybean projects because of lack of interest and support (from funders). The organizations first U.S. project started in 1994 and was a program to help those with low literacy levels, mainly immigrants. Sister Bisi choose this path as she was a former teacher and also a trained and certified Laubach Literacy Tutor Trainer with 22 years of experience. Instead of trying to “reinvent the wheel” she decided the most productive route would be to take what she knew already, and immediately use it to help others. This program catered to ten students, and was managed by Sister Bisi and one volunteer.
Since then Imani House’s programs have expanded to meet the diverse and growing needs of Brooklyn and Liberian communities. In the U.S. we directly serve over 1,200 low-income families, youth, immigrants and elderly each year, and indirectly through referrals, community outreach, workshops and forums, we serve an additional 4,000 persons. High performance, volunteers, linkages, low-budget fundraising and careful use of resources are key to our success. In Liberia, our Clinic and Adult Education program serves approximately 18,000 Liberians annually. Recently we began working with the Liberian Marketing Association, and have introduced our program into several markets to bring literacy classes to the largely illiterate market women. In addition, we have started a Peer Education Program, training teens on topics of sexual health, pregnancy and STD prevention and allowing them to facilitate workshops on the topic in various schools.
Our headquarters are located in South Brooklyn, one of the most ethnically and economically diverse areas of New York City. Although our U.S. programs benefit all of Brooklyn, we primarily serve disadvantaged members of Gowanus, Red Hook, Fort Greene, Sunset Park, Flatbush, Park Slope, and parts of Crown Heights.